Since its founding, in 1945, by Alfred Heber Holbrook, the museum has been committed to promoting, supporting and celebrating diversity. Its collections were integrated years before the University of Georgia achieved that milestone, with Holbrook purchasing works by 20th-century African American painter Jacob Lawrence, among other artists of diverse backgrounds. As part of UGA, the Georgia Museum of Art follows its parent institution’s diversity plan, “Embracing Diversity and Inclusion at UGA, 2011–2016.” It works on a daily basis to reflect the diversity of its community and its state through exhibitions, programs, collections, relationships and activities. Museums are for everyone, and we hope to convey that message through actions, not just words.
The museum’s curatorial committee puts together a wide range of exhibitions every year, both traveling and organized in house, including many featuring work by women artists, Latin and Hispanic artists and African American artists. Maximizing the diversity of the exhibition schedule is an important concern. Diverse exhibitions bring in diverse audiences.
The museum makes a concerted effort to acquire works by a diverse range of artists, including Asian, African American, women and Latin/Hispanic artists. Some examples can be found in its growing collection of American folk art, which includes work by African American artists Myrtice West, Sulton Rogers, Benny Carter and many more. In 2012, the museum received a major gift of works by African American artists from the collection of Larry and Brenda Thompson, which also included an endowed position for a curator of the African diaspora. One term of the Thompsons’ gift is that the museum present at least one monographic show by an African American artist every year. Other notable artists represented in the museum’s collection include: Radcliffe Bailey, Kara Walker, Leo Twiggs, Romare Bearden, Amalia Amaki, Henry Ossawa Tanner, Stefanie Jackson, Nam June Paik, Toshiko Takaezu, Yasuo Kuniyoshi, Joaquín Torres-Garcia, Minna Citron, Elaine de Kooning and Joan Mitchell. The Jane and Harry Willson Sculpture Garden is devoted to works by women artists.
Our educational programs are a particular strength when it comes to diversity and/or diverse audiences. Art Adventures, Family Day, Just My Imagination and the museum’s Senior Outreach Program reach racially, linguistically and economically diverse groups. The museum participates in UGA’s Latin American Film Series every year, and has also regularly hosted UGA’s Andrea Carson Coley Lecture, which brings scholars in lesbian and gay studies to campus. The museum has worked with the following organizations in the recent past: Latin American and Caribbean Studies Institute, AIDS Coalition of Northeast Georgia, African Studies Institute, UGA’s Office of Institutional Diversity, the J.W. Fanning Institute’s Leadership Sin Limites program, the Links Inc. and the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.
The museum’s internship program attracts an admirably diverse group of students, from high schoolers participating in UGA’s Young Dawgs program to undergraduates from a variety of majors to graduate students in art history, art education, studio art and more. We believe many of them will go on to be the next generation of museum professionals.
The museum has instituted an annual dinner in honor of Black History Month, held every February and honoring a member or members of the local African American community. Honorees include Louis and Mae Castenell, Michael Thurmond and Brenda and Larry Thompson.